The Ancient Origins Of Autocorrect

The iPhone's funniest feature owes a lot to Microsoft. Here's what autocorrect looked like in 1993.

By now, we're all pretty well acquainted with the wonders of autocorrect:

Usually it's helpful. Sometimes it's not:

But autocorrect didn't get its start on the iPhone, or even at Apple. It started at Microsoft, in 1993:

The feature was touted as a big part of Word 6.0:

This is how the New York Times described it in its review of Microsoft's new "Word Processing Software:"

For example, a feature called Auto Correct will delight fumble-fingered typists by automatically fixing such common mistakes as transposed letters ("teh" instead of "the") or double-capital-letters at the start of a sentence ("THe" instead of "The").

It will also automatically capitalize the first letter in a sentence and put in "smart" quote marks that bend according to whether they come at the beginning or ending of a quotation (turning "the" into "the").

And this is what it looked like in action:

The feature is now a part of every major word processing app, and integrated deeply into Mac OS:

Early versions of autocorrect weren't nearly as aggressive as the iPhone's; they were designed for full physical keyboards, after all:

Auto Correct can be trained to recognize a particular typist's quirks. When both of my typing fingers are blazing away at full speed, I have a tendency to type "compiyer" instead of "computer," for example. Now, as soon as my fingers commit their error, Word fixes it.

So in 1993, "damn you, autocorrect" had a completely different meaning:

But the basic concept has barely changed:

From the Times review:

I could also instruct it to transform shorthand notations into full text, such as "nyt" to "The New York Times," or even "xxx" to "Sincerely yours, J. Alfred Prufrock." Auto Correct might be a boon to people for whom typing is painful or difficult, as well as to people who have to type the same word or phrase over and over and over and over and over.

What's really changed is how crude text input is via touchscreen — and how assertive autocorrect has to be to fix that:

Here is a full tour of Word 6.0, in case you are into that kind of thing:

View this video on YouTube